When it comes to making a good first impression, presentation should be one of the primary elements considered. Following this rule, it’s no surprise that Elon University manages to attract so many incoming students each year. Every student attends Elon for a different reason, but regardless of these reasons, no one can refute that this campus is beautiful.
But the freshly cut grass and photogenic water fountains hides the real issue: instead of worrying about how we are presenting ourselves to visiting and incoming students, we should be concerned with what we are presenting.
While those of us who already attend Elon know it is highly qualified in academics and student life, anyone new to campus may not be able to initially understand any of Elon’s merits beyond the campus’ aesthetic value. While this is great for establishing a positive first impression with visitors, it can also detract from the other qualities that shape Elon.
Rather than choosing to balance focus between how Elon’s campus looks and how it operates, students take more pride in its appearance. This pride, while most assuredly genuine, is also misplaced. After all, Elon’s students haven’t created and maintained the look of the campus – we can attribute this responsibility to the grounds workers and the countless hours they spend cutting, cleaning, washing, watering, planting and re-planting, all to keep Elon looking good. Elon’s beauty may, in fact, exist in spite of its student population, and yet we’ve come to embrace this concept of “tour culture” — singing praises of how good Elon looks — as standard and commonplace.
There is a dangerous possibility that we may grow lax in our presentation of Elon, that we may come to rely on the aesthetic desirability alone to make impressions for us. Make no mistake: it is important that Elon looks as attractive as possible to prospective students, and Elon has consistently placed well in national rankings of best-looking campuses. The campus’ beauty should only be means to the end of convincing potential students to visit, but when these visiting students are leaving, what aspect of Elon will stay fresh in their minds?
For better or worse, it will be how the campus looked just as it was advertised.
As we move forward this year and continue to bring students from all over the world to our campus, we should encourage them to look beyond first impressions. By placing our confidence in the deeper qualities that make Elon such an attractive school, we can instead build lasting relationships with our students, new, old and incoming, one that keeps them coming back for more.